Of the four holy sports of America – baseball, basketball, football and hockey – I have always had a secret affinity for baseball. Clearly football and the NFL is the most divine, and basketball and the NBA is the sexiest; yet it has always been baseball that as a non-American I have wanted to waste an afternoon in front of. This doesn’t mean that I really understand it; I just have a soft spot for it.
The Battered Bastards referred to in the title are a legendary independent Baseball team called The Mavericks set up in Portland in 1973 as a response to the previous team The Beavers moving to Washington. At that time, all of the minor league teams were linked to a major league team who used the smaller teams as a ‘farm system’ in order to source and train up and coming players. This meant that there was little cohesion in the lower teams and they were simply less exciting to watch. This led to the Beavers getting tiny audiences and eventually moving towns.
The unlikely hero of the story is a largely forgotten ‘50s movie star called Bing Russell (who is none other than Kirk Russell’s dad) who was so obsessed with the game that he set up his own team in Portland. He held open tryouts, which people travelled the country to attend, and set up a team that was allowed to drink and smoke and do whatever they wanted – the golden rule was to have fun. Bing was so obsessed with the game that he made a series of mechanical how-to videos that he used to entice the team to a series of modest and exciting victories.
Without spoiling the story, it is suffice to say that they ended up drawing record-breaking crowds, exceeded expectations and pissing off the other teams. This is obviously part of the charm of the film.
The other charm of the film is how it aesthetically embraces nostalgia. There is loving footage of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and montages of ‘70s newsprint, as well as the usual talking head interviews of old guys talking about their heyday. There is no real bitterness from the interviewees, they mostly just want to talk about a great fun time in their lives.
The film is a Netflix Original, and is therefore pitched to a Netflix Audience. The most obvious proof of this is the slightly-dubstepy music that is present through the whole film, clearly to appease the short attention span of the viewers. There is also a brilliant anti-capitalist, screw-the-big-leagues rebellion that is personified in toughman Kirk Russell as one of the storytellers. But mainly this is just a great story about a group of guys that took themselves seriously, whilst they breaking all the rules. And now all I want to do is drink beer and watch baseball…